Romantic comedy anime is one of those genres where it becomes something special when done correctly. Like most humor-centric anime the material tends to be repetitive, similar to other series that came before it, or just not funny. In the case of Ai Yori Aoshi I'm pleased to say that neither of those flaws is the case.
Created by Kou Fumizuki and released in manga form nearly ten years ago, the anime hit Japan's airwaves in 2002 and garnered another season released the following year. The show tells an unlikely love story about two people destined to be married. Sometimes the pill is hard to swallow but it takes an honest and sincere approach to being a romantic comedy. Ai Yori Aoshi is also a show that isn't afraid to take chances and be a little raunchy as well. This is a dangerous combination.
The series features two young lovers who met when they were merely children. Aoi has traveled to Tokyo to meet the unsuspecting Kaoru and has vowed to marry him even though she was only a memory of his youth prior to their meeting again. Kaoru has left his family, the Hanabishi's, and Aoi's clan takes issue with her marrying someone without a namely heritage. Somehow the two work things through and manage to get together. Their tale is one about love and discovery and all that sappy stuff.
In the previous installment the small and energetic Mayu was introduced with significant fanfare. She's an old friend of Kaoru who was studying in England and has come home seemingly to hit on him and create a rift between he and Aoi. Then again most every one of the girls has had the opportunity to do this task. At any rate the final episode afforded Aoi and Kaoru some quality time together which was something the series has sorely lacked since the first volume.
In this fourth release Ai Yori Aoshi once again falls into the pratfall of the harem comedy. As is the case with just about any show in the genre the cast goes for a wild day at the beach. Needless to say there's a lot of fanservice, eye candy, and all manner of scantily clad girls lying about. The girls all compete to find the most tantalizing bathing suit and Mayu in particular eyes some things she hopes will make Kaoru's head turn.
Once again another character is introduced with this volume. That seems to be the growing trend with this series and it truly is one of my biggest complaints. This time around it is Chika who happens to be Taeko's younger cousin. Once she sees Taeko's interest in Kaoru she begins to push her towards him and tries to make her stand out more. Fortunately Aoi and Kaoru get some personal time together and they break away from the group for a moonlight dip.
After the beach it's time for some more debauchery as Tina and Kaoru wind up in a love hotel together for a night. Naturally the tensions run high as each of the pair is tempted by the other. In the end Kaoru remains true to his love for Aoi and takes a shower to get his head on right. Towards the end of the volume there is more quality time between the two main characters and the noise of the secondary cast is drowned out somewhat. The episode where Kaoru has to wear traditional Japanese clothing is particularly entertaining because it broadens the depth of both characters.
The fourth volume of Ai Yori Aoshi was decidedly better than the third. The five episodes here are more structure to them, though the Tina and Kaoru love hotel episode was kind of silly, and there was decent development all around. Sure every comedy series takes its characters to the beach for some ubiquitous T&A but this one does it with style. Considering there is only one volume left for Ai Yori Aoshi I'd have to categorize this show as "better than the average harem comedy". It's not the greatest by any stretch of the imagination but it's certainly not the worst.
Ai Yori Aoshi came out five years ago and is presented with video quality that doesn't necessarily show signs of it. The full frame picture features a wide range of colors and a very clear image. This is a bright show and to be quite honest I didn't encounter any flaws with the transfer. Grain is kept minimal and, like the first volume, there were no compression artifacts to gripe about. J.C.Staff did a marvelous job producing this series and Geneon offers a competent transfer that does it justice.
Both the Japanese and English dubs are presented on Ai Yori Aoshi with a stereo presentation. The dubbing quality for both is quite decent with a good range in emotion and genuine feeling put behind the lines. It doesn't happen that often but I did not prefer one language over the other in this case. As far as the quality is concerned this too is quite good. There are no flaws to complain about and the audio throughout is very clear and well balanced. A 5.1 surround track would have been appreciated but considering this is a dialogue driven show I'm not sure that it is necessary. The stereo track suits this series fine enough.
This time around the bonus features are essentially the same as we have seen in the previous volumes. That means a creditless opening, art gallery, and previews are all you're going to find here.
With Ai Yori Aoshi nearing its end we see some of the promise coming to the surface. Aoi and Kaoru are developed nicely with this installment though the secondary characters still create a lot of distraction. Chika isn't as invasive as Mayu by example but she's still one more name to add to the roster. This volume was much better than the previous one but still nowhere as good as the first. If you're looking for a harem comedy with decent legs to stand on this is a viable option. It's not the best you'll find in the genre but it's better than average.